Canadian Writers in French

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Canadian Writers in French

Black Canadian writers who write in French are of Haitian descent. Exiled by the chaos of the dictatorial rule in Haiti of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier (ruled 19571971) and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (ruled 19711986), they are among the thousands of Haitians who fled their country in search of asylum in Canada. The novels, short stories, and poetry they have written in Canada, however, are not thematically different from the mainstream of modernist and postcolonial writing worldwide. Expatriation and the quest for reinvention are recurrent features in the works of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway (among modernist writers), and those of Salman Rushdie, Derek Walcott, and Michael Ondaatje (among postcolonial writers).

Initially, Haitian writers in Canada had no alternative but to confront expatriation. Their works succeeded when they were inscribed in a literary continuum in which the commonplace theme of exile was accompanied by a reinvention in form. They failed, however, when they did not respond to the demands placed on art by both the modernists and the postcolonials.

For the icons of modernism and postcolonialism, the idea of "home" means the reinvention of place, but most Haitian writers in Canada are at first locked in the idea and the concreteness of a realistically represented "home," void of redefinition. Thus, the foremost concerns of the first generation of Haitian-Canadian writers are the nostalgic evocation of their lost homeland and, relatedly, the denunciation of the political regime responsible for that loss. The works of Gérard Etienne (Le Nègre crucifié), Émile Ollivier (Mère-Solitude; La Discorde aux cent voix; Les Urnes scellées), Anthony Phelps (Mémoire en colinmaillard; Moins l'infini), and Liliane Dévieux Dehoux (L'Amour, oui, la mort, non) are linked in this respect, being closely related to the writers' personal experiences of the Duvalier regime that led to their expatriation. They portray Haiti as a dichotomy of victims and victimizers, and the prevalent picture is one of relentless degradation unrelieved by the light of survival. Canada is not present in these works, except as an implicit "clean and welllighted place" that allows for the act of writing as catharsis.

On the other hand, the works of a second generation of writers (e.g., Dany Laferrière, Stanley Péan, Joël des Rosiers, Marie-Célie Agnant, and Georges Anglade) are characterized by eclecticism in their formal and thematic reinvention beyond conventional realism.

In his first novel, Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer (1988), Dany Laferrière, the best-known writer of the group, builds on Ollivier's early symbolic use of a Canadian setting in Paysage de l'aveugle (1977). But, like Ollivier, his characters are not Canadians. While Ollivier's vision of the Duvalier years is at times leavened by satirical humor, Laferrière largely ignores this period, and while he also relies on humor, he does so to undermine interracial taboos. Laferrière's later work is set in Haiti and is mainly steeped in images of childhood filtered by an elliptical style of writing.

Laferrière paved the way for the writings of Péan, des Rosiers, and Agnant that intermingle different strategies distinct from the conventional representation of Haiti. However, nostalgia for the lost homeland is not altogether absent from Péan's La Plage des songes (1988), Agnant's La Dot de Sara (1995), and des Rosiers' Vétiver (1999). Nor is the horror of the Duvalier years ignored in des Rosiers' first book, Métropolis Opéra (1987)whose dedication reads: "These verses are not dedicated to you who moans in the Tropics"and Péan's Zombie Blues (1996), which echoes Etienne's early novels through the repulsive figure of a Duvalierist bogeyman let loose in Montreal. By contrast, Agnant's La Dot de Sara and, especially, Le Livre d'Emma (2001) proffer a modern feminist point of view on traditional gender imbalance in Haiti.

Georges Anglade, the most original writer of the group, adapts the Haitian oral narrative form of lodyans (a rough translation is "storytelling") in three collections of short stories (Les Blancs de mémoire [1999]; Leurs jupons dépassent [2000]; and Ce pays qui m'habite [2002]). His is a notable attempt at formal and thematic renewal in a series of interlocking stories set in Canada and Haiti using the village (Nedgé and Quina, respectively) as a unifying metaphor. These humorous stories are told by a first-person narrator who lives in Montreal and speaks from a more comprehensive temporal perspective than the restricted spatial perspective of most of his predecessors. The narrator's manipulation of language is undoubtedly reminiscent of Jacques Roumain's use of the language of the elite (French), yet it resounds with the tonality of the people's vernacular Creole. A conscious attempt is made to reconcile the polarities between classes, between expatriates and natives, and between Creole and French speakers in Haiti and in Canada.

Neither the first nor the second generation of Haitian-Canadian writers feels rooted in Canada to the extent of creating fully developed Canadian characters. There are no French-speaking Canadian characters in the novels and short stories of Ollivier, Laferrière, and Phelps. When they appear in other works, they are cardboard figuresvictims of the bogeyman in the works of Péan and Etienne, and helpful allies of helpless Haitians in Etienne's Un Ambassadeur macoute à Montréal (1979) and Une Femme muette (1983). And, except for Laferrière's use of an African character in his first novel, none of the writers turns to Africa for a broadening of the representation of the Haitian condition. In Passages (1991), Ollivier traces the plight of Haitian boat people in Florida, and in La Chair du maître (1997), Laferrière caricatures the sex drive of American tourists.

There are a few English-Canadian coeds and dogooders in Laferrière's first novel and in Etienne's Une Femme muette they purportedly represent the bilingual nature of Canada. Ideology of a nationalist or racialist nature is identified with the excesses of Négritude personified by "Papa Doc" Duvalier, which the second generation chooses to exorcise in the process of reinvention.

Finally, there are the novels of Alix Renaud and Stanley Norris, whose characters are solely French-Canadians. Both writers follow the example of the early Haitian novelist Démesvar Delorme, who set his Francesca (1872) in sixteenth-century Italy (when Haiti did not exist as a nation). Delorme was also an expatriate writer. It is a measure of the relative achievements of his compatriots in Canada that they, as a whole, chose to create or reinvent their Haitianness.

See also Canadian Writers in English; Caribbean/North American Writers (Contemporary)


Agnant, Marie-Célie. La Dot de Sara. Montreal: Editions du Remue-Ménage, 1995.

Agnant, Marie-Célie. Le Livre d'Emma. Montreal: Editions du Remue-Ménage, 2001.

Anglade, Georges. Les Blancs de mémoire. Montreal: Boréal, 1999.

Anglade, Georges. Leurs jupons dépassent. Montreal: Bibliothéque Haïtienne, 2000.

Anglade, Georges. Ce pays qui m'habite. Outremont, Quebec: Lanctôt, 2002.

Delorme, Démesvar. Francesca: les jeux du sort. Paris: E. Dentu, 1873.

des Rosiers, Joël. Métropolis Opéra. Montreal: Tryptique, 1987.

des Rosiers, Joël. Vétiver. Montreal: Tryptique, 1999.

Dévieux Dehoux, Liliane. L'Amour, oui, la mort, non. Sher-brooke, Quebec: Naaman, 1976.

Etienne, Gérard. Le Nègre crucifié. Montreal: Editions Nouvelle Optique. 1974.

Etienne, Gérard. Un Ambassadeur macoute à Montréal. Montreal: Editions Nouvelle Optique, 1979.

Etienne, Gérard. Une Femme muette. Montreal: Editions Nouvelle Optique, 1983.

Jonassaint, Jean. Le Pouvoir des mots, les maux du pouvoir: Des romanciers Haïtiens de l'exil. Paris, Arcantère; Montreal: Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 1986.

Laferrière, Dany. Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer. Montreal: VLB, 1985.

Laferrière, Dany. L'odeur de café. Montreal: VLB, 1991.

Laferrière, Dany. Le Goût des jeunes filles. Montreal: VLB, 1992.

Laferrière, Dany. La Chair du maître. Outremont: Lanctôt, 1997.

Laferrière, Dany. Le Charme des après-midi sans fin. Outremont: Lanctôt, 1997.

Norris, Stanley Lloyd. L'Interdit. Montreal: Libre Expression, 1991.

Norris, Stanley Lloyd. La Pucelle. Montreal: Libre Expression, 1993.

Norris, Stanley Lloyd. L'Homme qui décrocha la lune. Chicoutimi, Quebec: JCL, 1993.

Ollivier, Émile. Paysage de l'aveugle. Montreal: Editions Pierre Tisseyre, 1977.

Ollivier, Émile. Mère-Solitude. Paris: Albin Michel, 1983.

Ollivier, Émile. La Discorde aux cent voix. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986.

Ollivier, Émile. Passages. Montreal: L'Hexagone, 1991.

Ollivier, Émile. Les Urnes scellées. Paris: Albin Michel, 1995.

Péan, Stanley. La Plage des songes. Montreal: CIDIHCA, 1988.

Péan, Stanley. Zombie Blues. Montreal: Editions La Courte Echelle, 1996.

Phelps, Anthony. Moins l'infini. Paris: Les Editeurs Français Réunis, 1973.

Phelps, Anthony. Mémoire en colin-maillard. Montreal: Editions Nouvelle Optique, 1976.

Renaud, Alix. A Corps joie. Montreal: Editions Nouvelle Optique, 1985.

Roumain, Jacques. Gouverneurs de la rosée. Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Imprimerie de l'état, 1944.

max dorsinville (2005)

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Canadian Writers in French

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